A far-right group with a history of violence plans to join a QAnon-inspired march in North Carolina
North Carolina Proud Boys in Richmond, Virginia in January 2020. (Credit: Anthony Crider)

Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a reputation for violence and associations with white supremacists, plan to join a QAnon-inspired march against human trafficking on Saturday in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

The president of the Piedmont North Carolina chapter confirmed to Raw Story that North Carolina members plan to attend a march against human trafficking and pedophilia in Fayetteville, which is home to Fort Bragg, about 130 miles to the east of Charlotte, two days after the Republican National Convention wraps up. The Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia promoted the Fayetteville event through the messaging app Telegram on Aug. 17, two days after Proud Boys and left-wing counter-protesters clashed in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with the accompanying text, “Next up, NC.”

The chapter president in North Carolina, a Winston-Salem resident who would only identify himself as “Yut Yut,” told Raw Story: “I do not know how many people are coming. There will be North Carolina Proud Boys there.”

The Proud Boys’ growing focus on pedophilia marks a new development for a group that has been primarily engaged in conflict with antifa groups in Portland, Oregon for the past three years, and to a lesser extent, opposition to Black Lives Matter since protests against police violence and systemic racism swept the country beginning in late May. The issue of pedophilia provides a point of convergence with QAnon, a conspiracy theory which holds that President Trump is waging a secret battle against the so-called “deep state” to expose a global pedophile ring. QAnon has been gathering steam as the presidential election season gets underway, and rallies organized under #SaveTheChildren and related hashtags proliferate across the country.

Two women involved in organizing the Fayetteville human trafficking event told Raw Story that they had never heard of the Proud Boys, while volunteering that Three Percenter groups — a movement that shares the Proud Boys’ preoccupation with a so-called “New World Order” intent on depriving Americans of their freedoms and imposing socialist government — and bikers also plan to be at the rally.

One of the event organizers, Heather Holmes, is also the Republican candidate for state House District 44 in Fayetteville. The Cumberland County Republican Party shared the human-trafficking awareness event on its Facebook page on Aug. 7. When told about the Proud Boys’ reputation for violence, Holmes said, “I need them to know that under no circumstance are they going to start riots and start fights.”

But Emily Dean, another organizer, indicated she felt comfortable with the Proud Boys’ participation.

“As long as they’re there for the children, it’s fine,” Dean told Raw Story. “We have a couple motorcycle clubs riding alongside us, and a couple Three Percenter groups joining us. It’s not a place to come and start trouble.”

Although the upcoming human-trafficking awareness event in Fayetteville has no website or Facebook event page, organizers are promoting it through a private Facebook group administered by Holmes, Dean and a third person. The group, which has grown to more than 1,100 members since it was set up on July 25, is currently called OFFICIAL #Endhumantrafficking March – Fayetteville NC 8/29/2020 although it has used a handful of names, including Wheres Our Children March #ENDhumantrafficking, #SaveTheChildren PROTEST and WhereAreOurChildren March. Two different versions of digital posters promoting the event variously say, “Help stop human trafficking,” and, “March with us against human trafficking and pedophilia.”

Many of the rallies organized across the country under #SaveTheChildren and similar hashtags have attracted support from people who are sincerely concerned about human trafficking and pedophilia, which are real problems, but hashtags on social media pages promoting the events and photos from the rallies are also salted with references to QAnon and related conspiracy theories like Pizzagate.

In the case of the Fayetteville event, Dean said organizers hope to raise awareness about human trafficking, and specifically to push for legislation to tighten up regulations on sex offender registries, and to help people recognize the signs of trafficking considering that Fayetteville is a transit point on Interstate 95 roughly equidistant between Miami and New York.

Beyond her conventional activism on the issue of trafficking, Dean readily acknowledged that she’s also a QAnon adherent.

“I’ve been a follower since the very beginning,” she told Raw Story.

Referencing the cult-like belief that Trump is a savior, Dean went straight to the president’s remarks in an Aug. 19 press conference — his first public acknowledgement of QAnon, although he’s previously re-shared tweets promoting the movement. “Is that supposed to be a bad thing?” Trump asked. “If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.”

QAnon has produced a handful of candidates, at least one of whom — Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia — is virtually assured a seat in Congress, although House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) recently said, “There’s no place for QAnon in the Republican Party.”

In her remarks to Raw Story, Dean articulated QAnon precepts, including the idea that a national security insider named “Q” is providing clues to followers about Trump’s purported campaign to dismantle a global pedophile ring.

“The intel behind with who all’s involved is out there for everyone to know,” Dean said. “It’s most certainly censored. Just like most things, once the truth is released, people will know what’s going on. When you’re in a high-security clearance situation, you can’t talk about all the details. Like, there are some things we’re not privy to know, not having a Q-level security clearance.

“There are very elite individuals that are at the top of the Vatican, that are at the top of every political arena,” Dean continued. “It’s like a cult within a subcult. It’s shocking to know everyone involved. They’ve been running our country. Trying to dismantle the old guard is very hard. He is taking on the beast. Trump is behind the scenes taking them out, one by one.”

But many observers see QAnon as more than a harmless fantasy.

A leaked May 2019 FBI intelligence bulletin describes QAnon, alongside Pizzagate, as a “Fringe Political conspiracy theory.” The same memo warned: “The FBI assesses anti-government, identity-based, and fringe political conspiracy theories will likely emerge, spread and evolve in the modern information marketplace over the near term, fostering anti-government sentiment, promoting racial and religious prejudice, increasing political tensions, and occasionally driving both groups and individuals to commit criminal or violent acts.

“Because some conspiracy theories are highly partisan in nature,” the memo continued, “political developments, including those surrounding major election cycles such as the 2020 presidential election, likely will impact these conspiracy theories and the potential activities of extremists who subscribe to them over the long term.”

The memo specifically cited two incidents in 2018, one in which a man arrested with an armored truck, body armor, rifles, ammunition and a flashbang device reportedly sent letters with a QAnon slogan to President Trump, and another in which armed members of “an unofficial, local veterans aid group” went searching for a supposed child sex-trafficking camp outside of Tucson, Ariz. while citing QAnon, and then harassed, threatened and doxed critics of their operation.

The Proud Boys come with their own baggage.

A self-described “fraternity” that promotes “Western chauvinism,” the Proud Boys’ ideology is characterized by the Anti-Defamation League as “misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and anti-immigration.” Membership is open to people of all races and its chairman, Enrique Tarrio, is Cuban-American, but some members have a history of associating with white supremacists. Jason Kessler, a former Proud Boy, organized Unite the Right in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, and Proud Boy members attended the event, although founder Gavin McInnes disavowed it. In North Carolina, Proud Boy Jay Thaxton has rallied with neo-Confederates and clashed with antiracists in Pittsboro and Statesville, while befriending an organizer with the white supremacist League of the South.

Yut Yut said in a phone interview that Thaxton, who lives in the Charlotte area, is not a member of his chapter, adding that he, Yut Yut, is “focused less on Confederate monuments, and more on what brings us together.”

But he followed up with a text, in an apparent attempt to avoid alienating his fellow Proud Boy: “Jay Thaxton is a brother. He is a fellow Marine.”

Yut Yut said he was unfamiliar with the details surrounding Proud Boys’ documented involvement in Unite the Right or a 2018 brawl outside the Metropolitan Republican Club in New York in which they fought alongside members of the 211 Bootboys skinhead gang.

Yut Yut acknowledged that the Proud Boys do not recognize the existence of systemic racism.

“We’re antiracist, but we’re also anti-racial guilt,” he said. “What’s most controversial is having this forced dialogue, having people feel obligated to shame themselves for the past history of slavery.”

Speaking to Raw Story, Yut Yut emphasized the Proud Boys’ stance against “antifa,” while declaring that his chapter has nothing against Black Lives Matter.

Notwithstanding his statement to Raw Story, Yut Yut previously said on a Proud Boys-friendly podcast in early July that Black Lives Matter and “antifa” are “really the same thing.” Yut Yut and Bill Whicker III, also from North Carolina, joined the Proud Boys in Washington, DC on the Fourth of July, deliberately crossing paths with a Black Lives Matter march. Their presence predictably angered some of the Black Lives Matter protesters, and Proud Boys can be heard in their own video yelling, “USA, b*tch. F*ck you.” And, “Whose streets? Our streets! F*ck antifa!”

In addition to Kalamazoo, where Whicker was also present, Proud Boys clashed with antifascists this past weekend in some of the worst violence that Portland, Ore. has experienced, when they reportedly punched each other and fired paintballs while others carried rifles and handguns for two hours, as police stood by without interfering.

Yut Yut said the notion that the Proud Boys’ presence is intended to provoke violence is not entirely off base.

“We’re warriors, man,” he told Raw Story. “Straight up. That’s what it is. Nobody joins the Proud Boys because they think they’re not going to get in a fight. If you look at the other side, nobody joins ‘antifa’ to peacefully protest. We’re just the rebuttal of the left, that’s what it is.”

Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University in North Carolina who researches far-right extremism, said the Proud Boys’ adoption of pedophilia as an issue both normalizes them and fits a pattern of conspiratorial thinking.

“To me, the thing that ties these groups together is their willingness to believe and to weaponize grand conspiracy theories,” she said. “That’s the lingua franca. Right now, we’re seeing the latest two that they’re latching on to. Whether it’s Jews control the world or there’s a secret government vaccine, they bleed into each other. These groups can make common cause based on how many and which of those conspiracy theories they’re willing to believe in, whether it’s QAnon or ‘BLM is controlled by antifa, which is controlled by George Soros, and they bus people into rallies.’”

Taking a public stand against pedophilia also camouflages their extremist agenda, she said.

“They’re attaching to this to seem normal,” Squire said. “It’s to re-normalize themselves. So, the thinking goes: In order to be against the Proud Boys, then you need to be pro-pedophilia. It’s to put the opposition on defensive.”

On Aug. 18, a Proud Boy who uses the moniker Groyper Dragon #AmericaFirst re-shared the message from Philadelphia Proud Boys promoting the Fayetteville rally.

“I wonder how many Antifa will show up to throw bricks and piss at anti-pedo activists,” Groyper Dragon wrote. “I like the idea of holding anti-pedophilia rallies. It makes it harder for the media and commies to paint us as the bad guys.”